Sihanoukville Gets Good Press At Last

I don’t know how many of my posts have been “inspired” by idiotic articles written by lazy journalists who spend an afternoon at Ochheuteal beach and go back to have their stories treated like gospel by their readers. Finally, I’ve come across an article in which Sihanoukville gets good press at last. Not only does Asia Life’s Shifting Sands in Sihanoukville have a lot of good things to say about this town, it covers a broader area than the others I’ve read, including Otres beach, Koh Rong and other popular areas in its coverage.

The article, by Ellie Dyer, starts out acknowledging how bad press has hampered Sihanoukville’s development, saying: “The area has been dogged by bad press over the years and, at times, a seedy reputation.” It goes on to quote Douglas McColl of the Sihanoukville Tourist Association (STA), who says, “Sihanoukville is like a teenager. It’s still very much in its formative years.” Like a teenager, he goes on, it can get rambunctious at times, but, also like a teenager, it is growing out of it.

Rather than just quote from the article, I’ll add a few of my own recent observations. Otres Beach, as I suspected would happen, is going more upmarket, catering to flashpackers more than low budget backpackers. This became apparent to me last week when I tried a new beachfront bar/restaurant, Dune. My ham and mozzarella panini was delicious, but the silverware weighed a ton in comparison to the cheap silverware in most cafes and restaurants. That may have helped account for the fact that my meal also cost about $2 more than it would have elsewhere. Not that I’m complaining. It was still about $5 cheaper than it would have been in Australia and that wouldn’t have been at a beachfront café with a view like this:

view from dune, otres beach, sihanoukville cambodia

bungalows-otresAfter I left, I noticed these new bungalows being built just across the street. They may have grass roofs, but are well-built and will probably be quite a bit more expensive than the average backpacker accommodation closer to town.

The 2013-2014 high season is probably not going to be a good year for the end of Sihanoukville closer to the port. Little has changed on the Hill and it looks like Victory Beach might be closed altogether for construction. Independence Beach is as it has been for years and remains one of my favourite beaches if for no other reason than there’s nothing touristy about it. What it lacks in white sand it makes up for in inexpensive, unpretentious restaurants and friendly Cambodian proprietors. I hope it stays that way for a long time to come.

I guess the only real misgiving I have about the good press Sihanoukville received is if it becomes a trend, Sihanoukville might become too popular for my liking. As much as I’ve tried to promote it, I’ve always felt it was my “secret spot” and the upside of the bad press was that it was never too touristy and the parts of the city I didn’t like were easily avoided. I’ve always had a knack for living in places on the cusp of change and after the change happened, I never liked them quite as much as before they were developed and gentrified. Oh well, at least I’ll be able to say “I told you so” to all those who said Sihanoukville would always be a “sleepy backwater” even when the signs of change were as clear as a bell.

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About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.

4 Responses to Sihanoukville Gets Good Press At Last

  1. William D. Webster says:

    Sihanoukville will never be a big international tourist destination until Cambodian Airlines is able to fly. Cambodian Angkor Air is owned by Vietnamese Airlines and the Vietnamese government has pressured the Cambodian powers that be to block Cambodian Air which is 49% owned by San Maguel brewery. Vietnam Air just built a big international airport on the island just east/south of Sihanoukville and they want to funnel tourists there and not Sihanoukville.
    As I told the Minister of Tourism, Sihanoukville is the only city in SouthEast Asia that you can walk out of a casino right on to a white sand beach. Tourists with a couple weeks of vacation will not fly into Phnom Penh and take a bus/taxi for 4 hours in the “Death Highway To Hell” to Sihanoukville. The will fly into Sihanoukville and wait those 4 hours to take a 45 min. flight/airplane to Sihanoukville.
    Also international tourists don’t want to visit a seaside city with trash flowing into the streets, pilled behind the beach’s and having to fight the flys from the garbage to eat their lunch/dinner.. Pass rules about trash, enforce them (fines, more money in policemen’s pockets) and thus have more tourists.

    • I think everyone is aware of that. From the two reports I read, the deal between Cambodia Airlines and Philippine Airlines was put on hold because of the tensions between the CPP and NCRP ( Kind of ironic, since CNRP wants to reduce Cambodia’s dependence on Vietnam. When the airport was being built, people said it would never be used, but it’s already become a boon to tourism in Sihanoukville. Everyone was saying nothing would be done about the power even while power lines were being strung from Kampot. Trash is also on the agenda as are other infrastructure improvements, including a new road. Tourism to Sihanoukville topped one million in 2013 and as far as I can see will be even greater this year. They’re spending more, too. Last night we ate at Olive & Olive. Our mains were $7.50 each. We had to sit upstairs and by the time we left, every table was full. When we went to Pizzana with the kids on Christmas, we had to wait half an hour for a table. My first few years here, Sihanoukville had no problem accommodating tourists in Ochheuteal/Serendipity beach. Now they are filling up the islands, Ochheuteal and Otres.

  2. Mazlan says:

    G’Day Rob;

    How yer going mate ! I have been a reader of your blog for quite a while. I have read them just because I need some information about Sihanoukville before I am relocating to Sihanoukville (1 November 2012) from working in the Middle East.

    Anyway Rob, I am a Malaysian, spend good formative years ( 6 years ) in Brisbane and Melbourne. Now I am here Operating and Maintaining a Power Plant in Steung Hav.

    Just like to say thanks for all the information given by your writings.



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